Worldwide Recess Day is here!

Today is the big day: Worldwide Recess Day! What are you doing to get your 10-minutes of recess?

KEEN footwear is encouraging everyone to get out and play for at least 10 minutes today. Take a picture of your fun, upload it to Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #TAKE10, and you could win a pair of KEEN shoes!

Here are five ideas for a fun day of recess.

1. Walk the dog!

If you don’t have a dog, volunteer at a rescue organization and walk some dogs who need it most. Better yet, adopt one of those dogs if you have the love and time to give a sweet pooch. You’ll receive far more from a rescued dog than you can ever give.

Don’t forget water and poopy bags to make sure your friend is well-hydrated and a good doggie citizen.

2. Invite a friend to coffee, and then walk there together.

Or, if you’re in Austin, Texas, walk to Gordough’s for a giant, made-to-order donut, then see if either you or your friend can finish one together.

You don’t feel so guilty about eating at Gordough’s if you walk there.

3. Play tourist for a day in your own town.

Put on some shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and sandals with black socks, and go check out the sights! Don’t forget your camera!

If you’re in San Diego, Washington, DC or Stratford, Ontario, take a walking tour. You can also Segway around the hot spots of San Diego if you opt to go with Another Side of San Diego Tours.

One of the many memorable moments we had during a walking tour of La Jolla, California with Bridgette of Another Side of San Diego tours.

4. Do a photo scavenger hunt with friends.

See who can find all the public art in your town first. If you’re in Chicago, you may need a whole weekend for this!

Agora in Chicago.

5, Make today a day of courage by doing something you’ve never done before.

Bonus points if it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, such as riding in a hot air balloon or learning what it takes to be a dolphin trainer.

One of the most memorable days of my life was spent in a wet suit–and I’m afraid of the ocean!

Those are some of my ideas. Now, how are you going to play?

For more inspiration, check out KEEN’s Postano page.

5 ways to play in San Diego

A path along the beach on Coronado Island is one of the many places to play in San Diego.

For those who live in San Diego, there is always a reason to get out and play, but for those who are only allowed short visits, how do you pack all of paradise into a single weekend? Below are five ideas on how to get the most out of a weekend of play in San Diego.

1. Take a tour with Another Side of San Diego

If Another Side of San Diego doesn’t have a tour to fit your interest, time frame, and preferred mode of transportation, it doesn’t exist! Whether you’re in the mood for history, art, nature, food, or even beer, they’ve got a tour for it. Not only that, but you can pursue your interests by Segway, on foot, in a hot air balloon, on horseback, on a bike, or even in a boat! As long-time resident of La Jolla, Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) said, “Oh, the places you’ll go!”

To explore their tour options, visit their website. To book a tour, you can use their website or call them at 1-619-239-2111.

Another Side of San Diego tours has tours by land or sea. In La Jolla you can walk, Segway, or kayak to learn about this jewel of a town where seals and sea lions call home.

A tour of Balboa Park will introduce you to the natural wonders of Southern California, but you may also catch a concert at one of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organs!

2. San Diego Botanic Gardens

To get outside and get away from it all, head up to Encinitas and visit the peaceful San Diego Botanic Gardens. There you can walk to the music of nature: birds chirping, lizards rustling in the brush, lacy bamboo swooshing in the breeze. Find a bench alongside the waterfall in the Tropical Rainforest, close your eyes, and listen to the sound of water carry all your troubles away.

San Diego Botanic Gardens brim with life in all shapes and forms. Some shapes have more form than others, like this incredible statue made up of succulents.

On Saturdays at 10:30am, the gardens provide docent-led tours of the splendid variety of plants living in each section. Also, check their calendar for classes and other events, such as making your own succulent art work or cooking with an opera singing chef.

3. Take in a play at the La Jolla Playhouse

If you’re in San Diego to explore the beauty of their outdoor paradise, but you wouldn’t mind taking in a play while you’re there, you can combine the two by attending a Without Walls play through the award-winning La Jolla Playhouse. Over the last year, their Without Walls program has literally led audiences out of the theater and through garden paths or into the intimate surroundings of cars and martini bars.

“The Car Plays: San Diego” was a part of the Without Walls program and one of many brilliant plays hosted by the La Jolla Playhouse.

If there isn’t a Without Walls program running when you visit, it is still worthwhile to see one of their plays with traditional-style seating. It should be stated, however, that none of their plays can be considered “traditional”. Better words might be provocative, cutting-edge, soulful, and unforgettable.

4. Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

With two locations to choose from and plenty of docent-led tours available, at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego you can discover just how much you have in common with contemporary art. Take, for example, the current exhibit downtown by local artist Margaret Noble entitled “44th and Landis”. If you’re used to art being oil paintings hung on walls, you may wonder what you can get out of her paper dolls hanging from the ceiling and the wild noises crashing from her handmade speakers. But stop and look at the paper dolls. Listen to the sounds. Suddenly, you see familiar things, like the logo of a Peeps Marshmallow box or the chase of Ms. Pacman through a maze. You hear familiar sounds that take you back to 1982, when you lived for Space Invaders and chased the ice cream truck on your bike until it stopped.

If you didn’t grow up in the 80s, you may still connect with the artists that use light and space to evoke a feeling. Whole rooms are devoted to the sensations and emotions light can have on us. And, if that doesn’t do it for you, then perhaps you will marvel at the wall that breathes or connect with the massive iron heart that looks like a prison.

This Light and Space piece by Doug Wheeler is one you participate in simply by showing up and experiencing what shifts within you as a result of this space and its lighting.

5. FOOD!

San Diego is not only charmed with sunny weather and stunning ocean views, it is home to more than its share of talented chefs, fresh produce, and inspired craft beer brewmasters.

If you only have time and budget for one special restaurant, go without delay to Georges at the Cove in La Jolla. Chef Trey Foshee has won tons of awards for his California Modern cuisine, including the San Diego Chefs Hall of Fame and the Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate”. There’s a reason for all these accolades. His food is consistently knock-your-flip-flops-off delicious; the kind of delicious that you remember and dream about weeks and months later. Even vegetarians can get in on the making of great food memories because they offer an entirely vegetarian menu and many of the dishes can be made vegan.

Reservations are recommended and can be made online or by calling 858-454-4244.

Georges on the Cove is definitely high-end food, but you gotta love a place that rolls up its sleeves with The People by serving donuts and coffee for desert.

If you go to Encinitas to visit the San Diego Botanic Gardens for an afternoon of peaceful retreat, spend your evening having dinner at Union Kitchen and Tap just down the road. They offer a variety of high-end tavern food (including vegetarian and vegan options) and they offer about 20 craft beers on tap, many of which are locally crafted.

Depending on what time you go, reservations may not be necessary, but if time is of the essence, it may be worthwhile to secure a table by giving them a call at 760.230.2337(BEER).

Where to stay

Hotel Parisi in La Jolla offers elegant and convenient accommodations for almost any sized group and any length of stay. The main sights, restaurants, and shopping opportunities are located just beyond the doorstep of this hotel.

Hotel Parisi also offers Parisi Apart, corporate apartments decked out with full-sized refrigerators, microwaves, silverware and dishes for travelers needing extended stays or those wishing to eat meals in the comfort of their own apartment.

The convenience of this hotel does come at a price, however. Prices start around $300 a night for a basic room and go up to over $400 a night for the extended stay apartments. Parking is an additional $15 per night and other fees may apply.

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These are just a few ideas. The possibilities are endless.

How do you like to spend time in San Diego? Comment below or email me at srdryja@jetplanesandcoffee.com with your ideas! With your help, we can put together a comprehensive list that will help others plan their weekend at play in San Diego!

Walking Chicago

In many ways, Chicago is like every other city. Generations of people and buildings overlap as reminders of the past, witnesses of the present, and springboards to the future. The city seems to breathe in and out as waves of people and cars navigate its sidewalks and streets. It sings the songs of diesel engines, street musicians, and car horns. Its colors blur in the mirrors of its glass buildings: taxicab yellow, brick red, asphalt black. It has an electricity that gets the pulse racing and can make a person feel charged with life. In this telling Chicago could be any city. Seeing it like this, though, is only a minute of its existence, and this particular city deserves a longer look.

Video by Chris Pritchard from his “Places in Time” series.

It is difficult to nail down just one thing that defines Chicago. Many have tried. They say it’s heart and soul is about architecture, finances, or politics. Chicago is about all of those things, but it is more than that. It is a complex grouping of everything that makes the human race tick, pushes it to thrive, and occasionally causes it to stumble and lose its way. No one thing encompasses this city and holds it still for very long. Therefore, no one visit is enough to completely understand it. Even one visit, though, can be enough to loosen one’s own stale understandings of the world and leave them to feel a little new and green again.

Chicago is a mosaic of history, people, experiences. This public work of art by Marc Chagall is available for all to see in the Chase Tower plaza.

Hubby and I have spent time in Chicago before, but it had been a while since our last visit. It won’t be our last. I went in to this trip thinking I knew what to expect, seeing it as “just another city I had been to before”. I quickly learned how wrong I was. I hadn’t taken into account the vibrancy and inventiveness of the place. Before our four-day visit was over, I was breathless, almost exhausted, by all I had taken in. We did more than just sightsee. We saturated our thoughts into the city, thanks to time spent with a well-informed local. Even then, though, we recognized that it was not enough.

Rolf Achilles

Allow me to introduce you to our well-informed local, Mr. Rolf Achilles. When I spoke with the concierge at the hotel where we stayed, I told her that we wanted to experience as much of the spirit of Chicago as we could in such a short amount of time. She recommended we hire Mr. Achilles as a private tour guide for the city. Her description of him was, “he is like a walking Encyclopedia Britannica on Chicago”. She wasn’t kidding. You can look on his website to see his long list of achievements, projects, and interests. There is also a History of Chicago Timeline on his website, which starts way back in 1673, before any keystone was laid for what is now known as Chicago. It is as impressive as anything else he has done.

When we finally met Mr. Achilles, we discovered that although the concierge’s description was spot-on, there was more to him than just bookly information. He loves his town. His love for it bubbled over in waves until, suddenly, we knew we were in love with his town too.

In the short amount of time we spent traveling around with him, Mr. Achilles quickly became a trusted friend. He is not just an expert on all things Chicago. He is an experiencer of life. He savors rich experiences as well as mundane ones and then he turns to you and offers you a bite.

We were given three bites of Chicago while we explored the city with Mr. Achilles: Public Art and Architecture, the Chicago History Museum and Old Town, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

For these tours, we took cabs to our destinations, with Mr. Achilles indicating to the driver special neighborhoods and spaces we needed to thread our way through so that we could take in the majority of the city along the way.

Public Art and Architecture

Public Art

Chicago is a city packed with public art. On nearly every block there seems to be a famous statue or structure by someone we have all heard of. Mr. Achilles showed us these works of art and spoke about them as if they were offerings of love from their artists and patrons.

The Chicago Picasso is an untitled sculpture, weighing in at 160 tons and standing up to 50 feet tall. It was was unveiled in 1967 and has since become a beloved icon of the city. It was designed by Picasso in France (he never visited Chicago), but it was built by the American Bridge division of U.S. Steel in Gary, Indiana.

At the time, the statue was seen as a bit odd-looking, but then it was Picasso, so it was accepted. In fact, Mayor Daley, who did the unveiling, said in his speech, “We dedicate this celebrated work this morning with the belief that what is strange to us today will be familiar tomorrow.” Not only has this sculpture become so familiar to the people of Chicago that children regularly slide down its base (see photo for evidence!), it is a point of reference for meeting friends, and is a place of celebration and holidays. The Chicago Picasso even gets decked out with hats for different occasions!

The Chicago Picasso is a massive steel sculpture that has, over the years, become both a landmark for the Daley Center and an irresistible jungle gym for kids in the plaza.

Agora is the name of the grouping of 106 cast iron figures wandering the southern side of Grant Park. They are 9-feet tall, headless and armless shells, grouped in clumps, just as crowds seem to group whether they mean to or not. The artist, Magdalena Abakanowicz, hates crowds and described them as “brainless organisms acting on command, worshipping on command and hating on command.” This particular crowd, with its height, texture, and color seems more like a forest of branchless trees, though, and just as harmless.

My take on the grouping was that they were contemplative, as if their arms were folded back behind them, their movement is forward toward better ways of being, and their body shells were waiting to be filled with great ideas. But then, I am an optimist.

“Agora” by Magdalena Abakanowicz is an impressive group of 9-feet tall, headless and armless statues at the south end of Grant Park.

The Four Seasons by Marc Chagall was unveiled in 1974, when the artist was 87 years old. Unlike Picasso, Chagall had visited Chicago many times and fallen in love with it. The Four Seasons is a mosaic, not only of glass, marble, stone, and brick (some of which was from Chicago herself!), it is a mosaic of the seasons, the people, the experiences which make up the life of the city. Like Chicago, The Four Seasons is complex and difficult to take in completely in just one visit. It is, after all, 70 feet long, 10 feet wide and 14 feet high. All four sides are covered in dreamy scenes of life from all the various walks of life which call Chicago home. It’s colors and happy images make this my favorite of all the public art we saw on our tour.

The Four Seasons by Marc Chagall is located in the Chase Tower Plaza. It is a massive rectangular box covered in a mosaic depicting the four seasons which can be found in Chicago.

UIC Skyspace: The University of Illinois Chicago houses a large work of art at the corners of Roosevelt Road and Halstead Street. UIC Skyspace is by James Turrell and was unveiled in 2006. It is a free-standing elliptical work of art meant to be experienced inside and out, taking note of the interplay of light. To go inside it is to walk into a quieter sanctuary of soft light; a place to sit and read, perhaps, or to experience one of my favorite activities, people watching.

James Turrell’s UIC Skyspace. Hubby and Mr. Achilles walked up to it and looked into its elliptical opening on the ceiling. Venturing further inside, it is meant to create a quiet world in the heart of a vibrant city.

Richard Lippold’s Untitled (Radiant I) was locked up tight in the lobby of the Inland Steel Building on the day we visited, but we could still see it by pressing our noses and cameras to the glass. Taut wires of various materials zig zag out from criss-crossing steel rods, giving it the presence of a star radiating out from the dark sky. It was installed in 1957 and was the first abstract work of art to be on permanent display in Chicago.

My photo here does not do justice to Richard Lippold’s Untitled (Radiant I).

We saw many other sculptures on this tour, but I did not get photos of all of them. Below is a list of addresses for everything we saw, including distances from the Four Seasons Chicago hotel, where we stayed, in case you are keeping track of step-counts like we do. More information about each piece can be found by clicking on the links provided.

For even more information about these and other public works of art in Chicago, check out the Public Art Guide put out by the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs.

Architecture

Stand on almost any corner in Chicago, and you will probably be standing in the shadow of a famous architect. This city has developed a reputation for setting the world on fire with its forward thinking architectural designs and designers. Styles and methods born in Chicago eventually become things we take for granted in other parts of the world.

Chicago is known for its architecture of buildings, as well as the engineering of its drawbridges.

Besides the ground-breaking drawbridges, Chicago developed the modern skyscraper using a steel frame. Windows were made larger, thanks to these frames, so light could enter the whole floor of a building, instead of just the outer offices. These days, all around the world, the windows seen in older skyscrapers are called Chicago Windows because they were developed here. Next time you find yourself walking in a town with buildings dating back to the first of the last century, look for windows with a large, fixed center panel and two operable windows on each end. That is a Chicago Window.  A prime example of this style of window can be see in the Marquette Building at S. Dearborn St. and Adams.

The Marquette Building is 1.6 miles from the hotel, or approximately 3200 steps.

Chicago style windows in the Marquette Building.

Just down the street from the Marquette Building is a whole complex of buildings designed by a man who ushered Chicago and the rest of the world into what is known as the Modernist style. That complex of buildings is the Federal Center Complex and the man is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. For many years, “Mies”, as so many call him, was the head of the School of Architecture at Chicago’s Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology). Driving around Chicago, one can see many of his designs and many designs created in the likeness of Miesian design. These buildings are free from ornamentation, they are steel and glass structures with plate glass windows, and which reach toward the heavens with all the simplicity modern technology affords it.

This complex of buildings is located at 50 W. Adams Street, the same location as Alexander Calder’s Flamingo. This means that it is 1.6 miles from the hotel, or approximately 3200 steps.

The Kluczynski Federal Building in Chicago designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. (Photo by Local Hero.)

Out of the Miesian school of architecture grew innovative students, such as Bertrand Goldberg, who designed the Marina Towers to be a city within a city. Completed in 1964, the corn-cob towers contained condos and all the amenities one might need to function in life, such as stores, restaurants, a gym, bowling alley, etc. Now the iconic towers house a hotel, a concert hall, and several restaurants.

Marina Towers are located at 300 N. State St., which is 1 mile from the hotel, or approximately 2000 steps.

Marina City located on the river in Chicago was one of the first mix-use buildings meant to lure people back to life in the city.

Chicago History Museum and Old Town

Chicago History Museum

The second tour we took with Mr. Achilles was to the Chicago History Museum. While there, we talked of the fire that destroyed Chicago, of ties to Abraham Lincoln, stained glass windows by Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Magic!

Chicago History Museum. (Photo by AlanScottWalker from Wikipedia.com)

The Chicago History Museum has vivid dioramas which tell the history of the city. Mr. Achilles told us that the dioramas had been there for a long time–well before they went out of style at museums–and they stayed around long enough to come back into style again. They have since been cleaned up and restored, providing excellent visuals for Chicago’s history.

Chicago Fire Diorama. (I could not get a good photo, so I have borrowed from CaZaTo Ma (Tricia J.) from Flicker.com.)

Mr. Achilles is the curator for the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows at the Navy Pier in Chicago. He has also helped to curate the windows shown in the Chicago Room at the History Museum, which is flanked on all sides by a gallery of historic windows from names such as Tiffany and Wright.

Tiffany stained glass window from the William Wrigley collection. (Photo by Corey Seeman.)

The Chicago History Museum houses information and artifacts from its complete history. A giant locomotive engine sits on the second floor of the museum next to one of the first rail cars used for city transit (which went on to be what is now called the “L”). Walk through all the halls of the museum to taste every generation’s contribution and inventions, including those from the furniture industry, the brewers, and the meat packers. Even the slaughterhouses contributed to fashion and furniture (leather goods), as well as food preservation methods, such as canning on a large scale.

Pioneer was Chicago’s first locomotive. (Photo by Jeremy A from Wikipedia.com.)

South Side Elevated Car 1 — the first passenger car to operate on the Chicago “L” line.

Chicago has been the site of helping to define human rights and civil liberties. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the struggles which have taken place in Chicago have been felt around the globe. This museum does an excellent job demonstrating with visuals and audio the contributions made and the battles fought.

Some of the quotes found at the Chicago History Museum, with displays providing information about such events as the Haymarket Massacre. (Photo by Aaron Ray.)

While at the History Museum, we were treated to a personal demonstration of magic by Jeanette Andrews, who has been doing magic tricks since the age of six! I thought for sure I would be able to tell how she chose the different cards she did or how she made the rubberbands move in and out from our fingers, but I never got it. I walked away happily mystified.

This video and more from Ms. Andrews can be seen at JeanetteAndrewsMagic.

The Chicago History Museum is located at 1601 N. Clark St., which is 1.1 miles from the hotel. That is approximately 2200 steps.

Old Town

When we had seen everything we had gone to see at the museum, we walked through the tree-lined streets of Old Town, a neighborhood which was settled first by the PotawatomiMiami and Illinois nations before it was settled by German Catholics. We stopped into a Bavarian-styled church in the neighborhood that survived the Great Chicago Fire, St. Michael Redemptorist Catholic Church.

The church has an altar made of silver, gold and onyx, featuring St. Michael the Archangel as, what looks like, a soldier of the Crusades. There are 16 stained glass windows in the church depicting the life of Jesus and Mary, which were designed and built by the Mayer Window Art Institute in Munich, Germany. It is a building quilted with colors and design and well worth a visit. My understanding is that the parish offers tours of the building. Call ahead for information first, though.

St. Michael’s Catholic Church is located at 1633 North Cleveland Avenue. It is 1.6 miles from the hotel (approximately, 3200 steps); or .6 miles from the Chicago History Museum (approximately, 1200 steps).

St. Michael’s Catholic Church in the Old Town neighborhood was part of our tour. It is resplendent.


Old Town is also home to Second City, the world-famous comic improvisational theater which has become known for churning out the world’s greatest comedic actors. Some of their alum include Alan Arkin, Joan Rivers, Dan Aykroyd, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, to name just a few.

Second City is located at 1616 N Wells St. which is 1.3 miles from the hotel, or approximately 2600 steps.

The Art Institute of Chicago

Our last stop in Chicago was its world-famous Art Institute of Chicago. We had been there years ago, but not with Mr. Achilles, who opened our eyes to the art surrounding us. We ended up learning so much and getting so much out of our conversation in the Institute that, not only did I forget to take pictures, we ran out of time for Millenium Park! One more reason to return to the Windy City, I think!

The Art Institute is perhaps best known for its collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artwork. The elite of Chicago were the first to collect these “fuzzy” paintings before they were thought of as anything of value.

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges-Pierre Seurat.

Wheatstacks by Claude Monet.

Beyond that, there are some other iconic offerings by Edward Hopper and Van Gogh, as well as one of the most identifiable paintings, American Gothic by Grant Wood.

Self Portrait by Vincent Van Gogh, available to be seen at the AIC.

American Gothic by Grant Wood can be seen at the AIC.

Mixed in with the artwork is art of another kind — furniture and home furnishings, such as tea cups and silverware. They serve to illustrate how the designs of the home can define an era.

In doing research for this article, I discovered a program near and dear to my heart that the Art Institute has started: The Cultural Distance: Half-Mile Tour. The link takes you to a PDF of a tour which walks you a half mile through the AIC, enriching your body as well as your mind! They have other distance tours as well on their website under Mini Tours.

The Art Institute of Chicago is located at 111 South Michigan Avenue, which is 1.3 miles from the hotel, or approximately 2600 steps.

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Below you can read where we stayed and how we otherwise fared in this very walkable city. As always in this series, the goal is to demonstrate how we were able to achieve at least 10,000 steps a day while exploring a different North American city. All step calculations were taken from the front door of the hotel to the front door of each destination.

Where we stayed and why

We chose the Four Seasons Chicago for several reasons. First of all, it’s the Four Seasons. It’s hard to bicker with a luxurious choice like that. The Four Seasons has a wide range of advantages, not the least of which is access to their concierge services. Karen, Michelle, and Adelina all worked with me at various times to set up our tours, plus, they gave us a long list of restaurant recommendations, and they made sure we got to and from the airport without problem. Besides that, we were able to request an extra, empty refrigerator so we could keep low-calorie options in the room for breakfast and lunch.

Waiting for us in the hotel room when we checked in were several personal notes from the concierge and front desk staff, along with a plate of gorgeous strawberries, a couple of beautiful plums, a succulent peach, and some bottled water. All healthy choices given to us as a thoughtful gift, after I had told them about Hubby’s weight loss and desire to keep it off. Of course, we couldn’t eat all of it right away, so we stored it in the empty fridge to munch on for the next few days.

Ever thoughtful, this is what the Four Seasons greeted us with in our hotel room!

If that wasn’t enough, the Four Seasons Chicago is located within walking distance to everything we needed access to, such as restaurants, grocery stores, and Walgreens.

The Four Seasons Chicago is located at 120 East Delaware Place.

Groceries and other necessities

Potash Market: This little store had everything we needed during our short stay in Chicago. It is located at 875 North State Street, just .2 miles from the hotel, or approximately 400 steps.

Walgreen’s: Located just up the block from Potash Market was a quieter Walgreen’s. It is located at 933 North State Street, just .2 miles from the hotel, or approximately 400 steps.

Coffee

Sadly, we did not drink coffee outside of the hotel. This is a big surprise for someone like me who loves her coffee, but I did think to ask Mr. Achilles where was the place for a cuppa Joe. His response was, without a doubt, Intelligentsia.

There are several locations around Chicago (and New York, Pasadena, LA, and Atlanta). To find them go to Intelligentsia’s website.

Restaurants

The order in which I have these restaurants is not the chronological order in which we ate at them, it is the order in which I rate them. I start with L2O for a reason. It was, without a doubt, our favorite. We met a friend there, which only served to enhance the experience, but we all agreed that between the level of food and the level of service, it was bar none. Two other restaurants mentioned below were fantastic and, if we had only eaten at them in Chicago, our experience would have been great. But L2O took everything to the next level and blew us away with flavor, innovation, and service.

L2O: L2O stands for “Lake to Ocean”, so it is a restaurant heavily influenced by seafood. My experience as a vegetarian, though, was no where near second class. In fact, on a couple of fronts, our friend or Hubby mentioned that, in some way, they wished they had my serving–until they tried their own and decided they were over-the-moon happy with what they had ordered.

Reservations are recommended and can be made on OpenTable.com.

L2O is located at 2300 N. Lincoln Park West. It is 2 miles from the hotel, or 4000 steps. Although we did not walk there, we did walk back!

Hubby’s dessert had gold sprinkles on it and they poured more gold sprinkles on it after it was served. (Thank you, Mike R., for the photo!)

Blackbird: Don’t let my gushing about L2O lead you to believe that Blackbird isn’t worth your time. Quite the opposite. Blackbird knocked our socks off too. They just didn’t pick them up, launder them, and put them back on our feet when we were done like L2O did.

But seriously, Blackbird was delicious. The waiter who took our orders was very knowledgeable about what was on their menu and what it tasted like. When I mentioned I was vegetarian, he recommended the salad of endives with crispy potatoes, basil, dijon, and poached egg, minus the pancetta. For my entree, he suggested crispy buckwheat crepes with feta, artichokes, maitake mushrooms and ginger broth. I think I embarrassed Hubby as I slurped everything off the salad plate. I am a sucker for poached eggs in salads and this one was better than most. The crepes were outstanding as well; very fresh, spring green sorts of flavors that were grounded in the earthiness of mushrooms.

For what it’s worth, everyone we spoke to in Chicago about Blackbird–and there were quite a few–said they had been to this restaurant several times and they had loved it.

Reservations are recommended and can be made at OpenTable.com.

Blackbird is located at 619 W Randolph in a skinny building that has a small number of tables. The walk is 2 miles from the hotel, or 4000 steps. Although we cabbed to the restaurant, we walked back to the hotel.

Naha: We met another friend at this fine restaurant–delicious as Blackbird and just as attentive, service-wise. In fact, the waiter was kind enough to realize we were catching up with friends, so he checked in when he sensed a quiet moment, even though we didn’t leave him with many opportunities. We had a lot of catching up to do! The wait staff had the perfect balance between being attentive and letting us enjoy one another’s company. We never felt rushed or interrupted, nor did we wonder where our waiter went, and the food was delightful.

This restaurant was recommended by others we spoke to as well. It got hopping soon after we got there, so it seems like a popular place. Reservations are recommended and can be made at OpenTable.com.

Naha is located at 500 north clark street, which is .9 miles from the hotel, or 1800 steps. We walked to and from this restaurant.

Panera Bread: When we first got to town and just before we left we needed something to eat. Hubby found us a Panera Bread located .6 miles from the hotel, or approximately 1200 steps. We got soup and/or sandwiches and were set for the rest of the afternoon.

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At the end of the day, Chicago has everything a person could want in a city–all of the conveniences and luxuries. Still, Chicago is a city set apart by its richness in culture, heritage, and talents. It has given the world gift upon gift but continues to be looked upon as “The Second City”. Maybe that’s what makes it so special, though. It’s the younger brother to The Big Apple. It’s the kid always having to prove himself. And, in doing so, it changes the world in ways no one ever expected.

As for me, I can honestly say my own world was shifted from four days spent learning this city. I can only imagine what it must do for those who live there.

Have you visited Chicago? If so, what did you see that I didn’t mention here? Share your tips and ideas in the Comments Section below to help others who might be planning a visit to Chicago.

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This article is dedicated to my friend Gabi who is getting ready to start a new phase of her life in The Windy City. Good luck, Gabi! The world is waiting for you!

Walking Washington DC: Part III The Shoes

Just three weeks ago I was traipsing all over Washington, DC, breaking my own walking records. In all that time, over all those many miles, I got nary a blister and neither my feet nor my back complained. Over this last week, though, while merely chopping vegetables for dinner, an ache took over the joints of my feet and crept up into my back. By the time the recipe was simmering on the stove, I needed to sit down!

If you look closely, you can see the top straps of my Naot Kayla shoes, which I wore to walk the Red Carpet at the Library of Congress.

How is it possible that one week I can tromp around a big city like a 20-year-old in sneakers, and just a few days later I’m like an 80-year-old grandma hunched over the kitchen stove? I can’t help but wonder if the difference had anything to do with the kind of shoes I wore.

In the kitchen, I had on loafers–shoes that are cute and easy to get on and off, but which have little in the way of support. Alternatively, I didn’t go anywhere in DC without wearing a pair of Naot sandals, shoes I know to be lightweight and supportive for any test I put them through, even during a hot, sticky Mid-Atlantic summer. I don’t think this is just a coincidence and I’m pretty sure Steve Lax, President of Yaleet, Inc., the U.S. distributor of Naot Footwear, would agree with me.

He sat down with me for a phone interview recently and I asked him right away why Naot shoes are so consistently comfortable. His reply was simply: “It’s the cork and latex insole which creates your own orthotic from the heat and pressure of your foot.”

Naots, he said, start out comfortable and get more comfortable over time. Whether I’m trekking miles over historical brick sidewalks in DC, or hovering over a stovetop in Michigan, my feet and back stay pain free.

I’m not the only traveler who has been lured by Naot’s lightweight and comfortable selections. In 2001, Daisann McLane, then known as “The Frugal Traveler” for the New York Times, deemed Naot sandals her go-to summer travel shoes:

“Over time I’ve managed to find a few styles and brands that rate an A for both fashion and comfort. One is a slip-on sandal made by the Israeli manufacturer Naot, with a comfy black elastic-band upper and a leather insole that molds to the shape of your foot.”

She bought two pairs–one to wear right then and one to wear when the other one wore out, in case the style was discontinued. I also have two pair of Naot shoes–the Kayla style, which I deemed the perfect summer travel shoe in a previous article, and a new pair, the Esteems, which I wear for fancier occasions.

Naot Kaylas — the perfect summer travel shoe.

Back in the late eighties, when Naot started developing their shoe line, the only comfort shoes out there were made in Europe. Those shoes had a break-in period and the soles only lasted a couple of months. Plus, there was basically only one style–wide and clunky.

In Israel, where Naot shoes are made, people wear sandals 12 months of the year. A shoe that had to be broken in and whose sole lasted only two months wasn’t practical. So, the developers got to work and designed a shoe that was comfortable from the very beginning–that’s where the cork and latex insole comes in. They also used a supportive, long-lasting polyurethane bottom sole, as well as soft European leathers which prevent blisters. Naot shoes started out comfortable and got even more comfortable as a person wore it, plus it had a sole that could last. “It’s like the difference between the Model T engine and the jet engine,” said Mr. Lax.

As for clunky, Naot worked to resolve that too. “People don’t want to wear clunky shoes,” he said, so their in-house designers design shoes for comfort and style. Now, he said, “Naot has a shoe for every kind of foot.”

Even the heels are built to overcome the issues of comfort and clunkiness. “Our heels and wedges are angled to be a zero heel. No pressure is placed on the back.” No wonder I could walk a mile and a half to dinner and back in DC wearing my Naot Esteem shoes without feeling like I was walking in a heel.

Naot Esteem in Platinum Leather.

These same in-house designers set the standard for removable, insertable orthotics. “Thirty percent of national labs are using our insole,” he said. What that means is, if you use an insertable orthotic, there’s a good chance it was designed by Naot’s designers.

Over the years, new styles have been added to Naot’s lineup of sandals, shoes, and boots, but they all must meet the standards set by the organization, standards that are shaped with a vision toward making the world a little better everyday. “It’s not all about money,” said Mr. Lax. “We are a very socially active company. We donate Naot shoes to shelters all over the country.” In fact, just the week before I spoke to him, he said they gave away 200 pairs of shoes at a shelter in New York City, and they have similar events on a regular basis in shelters nationwide.

So, now I know. When I’m traveling the globe, wearing my Naot shoes, my feet are held in consistent comfort and support because of a dedication to quality that runs deep within the company. It’s that attention to quality that not only makes my feet happy, but now it makes my heart beat a little happier, knowing I’m supporting a company that supports the community at large in such big ways.

Thank you, Mr. Lax, for your time and your company’s generosity.

Walking Washington DC: Part II, Tours and Activities

American cities may be easy to navigate on foot, but not every American city caters to the walking tourist. For a lot of cities tourists count on buses, cars, and Segways to see the sights. In Washington, DC, though, even Segways have a hard time getting up close and personal with all the memorials and monuments in the area. This capital city, then, is a walker’s dream. Not only is it easy to achieve 10,000 steps simply by eating, drinking, and shopping, it is a city that can truly only be experienced on foot.

The guide below illustrates how Hubby and I strategized our time as tourists with the goal of achieving at least 10,000 steps a day. Our starting point for step calculation was the Hotel Rouge. Distance and step calculations are taken from the front door of the hotel to the meeting point of each activity. The Hotel Rouge is located at 1315 16th Street, NW in Washington, DC.

Things to do

Washington Walks Tours

Thankfully for the walking tourist there are at least a couple of tour companies devoted to seeing our nation’s capital á pied. My favorite is Washington Walks. In fact, we enjoyed their tours so much that we took four of them. Their guides are knowledgeable and friendly. The tours themselves are intimate and in-depth, filled with sights and information you can’t get from riding a bus all day. If we had been in town longer, we would have taken the other tours they offer.

Memorials by Moonlight, around the Tidal Basin 

It doesn’t matter how often I go to DC, there is always something new to see or, more likely, something that changes because I have changed. As a high school student and a young adult I visited DC as a tourist. Plus, when I first graduated from college, I lived just outside of the city in Maryland for nearly a year. Many weekends were spent strolling around Georgetown, the National Mall and the National Gallery of Art. In all those trips and during all that time I had never been to the Jefferson Memorial. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, as well as the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial were installed since the last time I visited (which had been a long time).

One thing hadn’t changed, though–the power of these memorials and monuments to move something deep within me, inspiring that longing for their kind of greatness, their kind of far-seeing wisdom, even as they were set in completely human bodies, with strengths and weaknesses just like the rest of us.

All of these sights, along with the George Mason Memorial, are included in the Memorials by Moonlight tour around the Tidal Basin with Washington Walks. With an exuberance of one who loves what she does, our guide Phoebe introduced us to the stories of these men who had such an impact on American history.

Washington Walks tours are $15 per person and no reservations are needed. Children under the age of 3 have free admittance.

Walking calculations: For this tour, we took the Metro on the Orange/Blue Lines from the McPherson Square station to the Smithsonian station. Walking from the hotel to McPherson Square is .7 miles or 1400 steps, one way. The tour itself was 2 hours long and we walked approximately 1 mile, or 2000 steps around the Tidal Basin from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, where the tour began, to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, where the tour ended.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

Inside the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

George Mason Memorial.

Mama, Daddy, and Baby ducks hang out on the sidewalk around the Tidal Basin. In the distance is the Washington Monument.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. This is only one part of a large, four-roomed space.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt with his dog.

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial.

A wonderful quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.

Memorials by Moonlight, along the Reflecting Pool 

The Reflecting Pool located in the National Mall may be getting a face lift just now, but that did not stop us from feeling the power of the memorials which sit around it. There’s the newest member, the World War II Memorial, the controversial but deeply powerful Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the equally moving Korean War Veterans Memorial. Seth, our tour guide, took us around all of these memorials, as well as the Constitution Gardens, the Vietnam Veterans Women’s Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial for this tour.

As with the other Washington Walks tours, ticket prices are $15 per person and no reservations are needed. Children under the age of 3 are admitted free of charge.

Walking calculations: For this tour, we walked to meet Seth in front of the Queen Isabella I statue on Constitution Avenue and 17th Street, NW. That walk was 1.2 miles from our hotel, which is approximately 2400 steps. The tour itself was two hours and included approximately 1 mile of walking (or 2000 steps), from one end of the Constitution Gardens and Reflecting Pool to the other. Walking back to the hotel, we walked from the Lincoln Memorial up 15th Street NW, which was about 2.5 miles, or 5000 steps.

Hubby along the picturesque lake in Constitution Gardens, a memorial to the American Revolution and to the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Wreaths hung on posts naming all the states and American territories that contributed to the war effort during WWII.

Eagles overhead in one of the two pavilions marking the two theaters of war: Atlantic and Pacific.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This man’s name is inscribed somewhere on this wall.

Vietnam Women’s Memorial.

Korean Veterans Memorial.

Korean Veterans Memorial.

Korean Veterans Memorial.

Korean Veterans Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial.

The spot on which Martin Luther King, Jr. stood during his “I Have a Dream” speech on the Lincoln Memorial.

Dupont Circle

Starting at the Metro station for Dupont Circle, we were introduced to the spirit of this neighborhood by reading the quote from a poem by Walt Whitman, which is inscribed in the surrounding wall of the Metro station:

Thus in silence in dreams’ projections,
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals;
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night – some are so young;
Some suffer so much – I recall the experience sweet and sad…

Dupont Circle may have started out as a playground for the nouveau riche in the early twentieth century, but it became the birthplace of the gay community in our capital city. The quote above was written by Whitman after the Civil War, when he served as a nurse to dress the wounds of soldiers and provide comfort to them. The poem became symbolic, then, for those serving the men and women dying of AIDS, and how that brought together the community.

Our guide, Carolyn, took us all around this beautiful neighborhood, telling us stories of a famous architect and his murderous, crazy brother; of rich socialites whose parties outshone those of the president’s; of an 80-year-old church which was burned by arsonists and reinvented itself to serve the changing community; and of a man who single-handedly cultivated the art collection that would become the beginnings for the National Gallery of Art.

There was far more on this tour than I can share here in this one article. Some of the photos below highlight things mentioned above, as well as some of the other rich pieces of history we encountered along our tour.

As with the other Washington Walks tours, ticket prices are $15 per person, except for children under age 3, who are admitted free of charge. No reservations are needed.

Walking calculations: We met just outside the Dupont Metro station, which is located at Q Street NW and Connecticut Avenue NW. The distance from the hotel is approximately .6 miles, which is 1200 steps. The tour was two hours long and we walked all over the neighborhood, about a mile and a half, which gave us 3000 steps.

A portion of a Walt Whitman poem is inscribed on the Metro station wall.

Our guide, Carolyn, showing us what Dupont Circle used to look like. You can’t believe the mansions!

The Dupont Circle Fountain, which has symbols for the sea, the stars and the wind–all important to the naval officer for whom the circle is dedicated. The trash around the fountain is unusual, we were told, left-over from the celebrations of the day before.

A tiny park near Dupont Circle which commemorates the entertainer, the entrepreneur, the statesman, Sonny Bono.

“Toy Theater” mural by Peter Waddell is on the side of a building located at 1914 Sunderland Place NW at New Hampshire.

An Episcopalian church was burned by arsonists in the 70s. What you see here is what is left of the original altar in the interior of the building. As you can see, the congregation is gearing up to rebuild, incorporating the ruins from the building.

A labyrinth to walk outside the ruins of the Episcopalian church.

The Cairo–the tallest building in the city. (It’s not the Capitol Building!) Once it was built, everyone worried that DC would be overrun with massive structures, so a law was passed that says no building can be taller than this one.

Embassy Row 

This section of town is encompassed by Dupont Circle, so part of this tour overlaps with the other tour. Still, what we learned in each was surprisingly unique. It is incredible how much could happen in one 2-mile radius!

As you can imagine, Embassy Row houses a number of embassies from all over the world. Sandwiched among them are historical homes–some of which have since become embassies and private clubs, but all of which have fascinating tales to tell, especially when told by our theatrical guide, Victoria, who happens to be an actress when she is not leading tours.

We took fewer pictures on this tour because so much of it is wrapped up in the stories which took place in the homes we encountered: Rich socialites wreaking havoc on the sanity (and pocketbooks!) of their political and entrepreneurial fathers; Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s marital quandaries; and the curse of the Hope Diamond, to name a few!

As with the other Washington Walks tours, ticket prices are $15 per person and no reservations are needed. Children under 3 years of age are admitted free of charge.

Walking calculations: We met near Dupont Circle, close to the Panera Bread restaurant, which is located on 19th Street NW. The distance from the hotel is approximately .4 miles, or 800 steps. The tour was two hours long and we walked about a mile and a half, which gave us 3000 steps.

A statue of Ghandi stands in front of the Indian Embassy, while our talented guide tells us all about the history of this bustling area.

Although this cat wasn’t officially a part of the tour, we thought it was cute, especially when we were told that it is dedicated in memory to an actual cat that used to live there and climb up on that roof to sit.

Other Activities and Things to Do

Library of Congress 

The Library of Congress is a stunning building and definitely worth exploring. We thought it would be a good idea to take a public tour provided by volunteer docents, but for us it was not a good experience. At least thirty individuals were crammed into one tour and a woman who seemed to struggle to get from one place to the next had an equally difficult time projecting her voice over the chaos of the public hallways. We ended up leaving before the tour was over with the promise to one another that we would return and, next time, take a private guide with us or explore using the Passport to Knowledge guides or the iPhone app.

Walking calculations: We walked to the McPherson Square Metro Station, which was .7 miles (or 1400 steps) from the hotel. We then took the Orange/Blue lines to the Capitol South station. From there, we walked to the Library of Congress, which was .3 miles (or 600 steps) and walked through the Library long enough to discover it was too loud and crowded to enjoy the tour. By then, we had run out of time to start a new tour, so we headed back to the hotel the way we came. Overall, I estimate we walked about 500 steps around and in the Library of Congress.

Hubby walking the red carpet at the Library of Congress.

My turn to walk the red carpet in front of the Library of Congress. What is it about a red carpet that makes one feel like a movie star, even when the paparazzi have all gone home?

The Capitol Building is right across the street from the Library of Congress.

The Founding Fathers look out from their pedestals on the Library of Congress.

It is a stunning building.

The one line we did hear our tour guide say was, “If it’s not nailed down or breathing, it’s decorated.”

Capital Pride

As mentioned above, Dupont Circle is the birthplace for gay activism in Washington, DC. As a result, they have a smashing Capital Pride Festival every year. We were fortunate enough to be there the last weekend of the event, but sadly, we got there too late to participate in most of the activities. Since we were staying in the Dupont Circle area, though, we were happy to share in the spirited atmosphere. We even received our own Pride beads, which we wore proudly until the festival ended the next day.

For those interested in attending the Capital Pride festivities, they occur every June, which is LGBTQ Pride month across the United States.

Walking calculations are not included here since we did not get to participate in the actual festivities.

I am proud of the Pride beads I was given!

Many of the restaurants and business establishments around Dupont and Logans Circles were decorated with the Pride colors.

Hubby and I enjoyed a beverage at Cafe Luna, one of the restaurants decorated for Pride in Dupont Circle.

When I go back

Mount Vernon

After reading about Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate, on Traveling Chicha’s blog, it became a place I want to go to, but I ran out of time before I could do it. It seems a great way to capture the spirit of the man and the era which helped shape this country. There is a fee for entering the Mount Vernon Estate: $15 for people over 12 years old, $14 for seniors over the age of 62; and $7 for children between 6 and 11. Children under 5 years old are free. Most organized bus tours include the price of admission.

Eastern Market

A friend of mine who spends more than half the year in Washington, DC told me this market is a Must-Do for anyone visiting the city. Not only does she shop there for fresh produce, she goes there for unique gifts and to enjoy the craftsmanship of hand-made artwork, jewelry, and crafts.

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Now that you’ve seen how Hubby and I did things, share your own ways for Walking Washington, DC. Do you know of other excellent walking tours? Do you take advantage of the free entries to places like the National Gallery of Art or the Smithsonian? How do you avoid the crowds and lines? Add your favorite hints and tips in the comments section below to help others plan their future walking adventures in Washington, DC.

Walking Washington DC: Part I, The Basics

America’s cities have some of the best opportunities for those who strive to walk 10,000 steps each day (or about 5 miles). Sometimes cities can be a mixed blessing, though. While a person has walking access to everything he or she could need–restaurants, shows, basics–that convenience can make it difficult to achieve all those steps. For example, if the grocery store is just a quarter of a mile away from home, the round trip only garners 1000 steps total. That’s where strategizing becomes important for walking those other 9000 steps elsewhere.

Fortunately in Washington, DC, it’s easy to have your cake and eat it too. In fact, I spent a little more than a week there recently and, according to my FitBit calculations, I broke a record for number of steps achieved in one day. (For those who can forgive my boasting, I hit over 19,000 steps in one day! Woo hoo!)

As you can imagine, DC is packed with things to do, places to see, history to explore. Because of this, I have broken down this part of the Walking America Series into three articles.

Part I, The Basics: This is the first of the three which lays the foundation for the ways Hubby and I strategized our time to achieve the greatest number of steps just doing day-to-day things. Basics include grocery stores, coffee shops, restaurants, and other kinds of things needed to function on a daily basis. As an example, we hit the grocery stores everyday. This gave us a minimum of 1200 steps round trip from the hotel. You’ll see in these three articles that we picked up the other steps by walking for coffee in the afternoons, walking to restaurants, and taking walking tours.

Part II, The Tours & Activities: The next article is all about how we got our steps as tourists. Thankfully, there is an abundance of walking tours available in DC and we took four of them. You’ll see how much fun we had getting all our steps while reconnecting to our nation’s capital.

Part III, The Shoes: The last article is a revisit of the shoe question from a previous post. In DC I put my favorite pair of Naot shoes to the test and experimented with another pair from that same brand. I also had the opportunity to talk with the president of Naot’s US shoe division to find out why the results of my personal testing turned out the way they did.

I hope you’ll return for each article and provide your own insights as to how you navigate the world on foot.

Approximate mileage and step counts are provided for each location. Please note these calculations are taken from the front door of the hotel to the front door of our destinations.

Where we stayed and why

The Ladies of Hotel Rouge were a big draw to passers by, many of whom couldn’t resist a picture with at least one of them.

Hotel Rouge: Hubby and I chose the Hotel Rouge in large part because they advertised studio suites with kitchenettes and free wi-fi for Kimpton Hotel’s InTouch Loyalty members. Kimpton is known for its quirky hotels. Some can be better than others, but we could not have been happier with having access to a fridge and small sink in our room, along with dishes, silverware, mugs, and glasses–all replaced daily with a clean set by housekeeping.

The kitchenette in our room.

We also chose this hotel because it is located on the edge of Dupont Circle and Logans Circle, lovely neighborhoods peppered with restaurants, coffee shops, and easy access to a couple of grocery stores and pharmacies. Anything else we would want to do was just a couple of miles away.

The hotel is three stars, which I think is very accurate. It has some shabby edges–the elevators could use a good scrub down–but it is otherwise a good place to call home for a week. The staff was friendly, the room was spotless, and it was overall very quiet where we were in room 706.

The hotel room was huge, with the bed on one side and a desk on the other. (That’s me blurred on the side. I was checking things out.)

The desk area on the other side of the room from the bed.

There are other Kimpton Hotels in the area: Madera, Helix, Topaz, Palomar, and Donovan House. If Kimpton isn’t your style or budget, you can throw a stone from the Hotel Rouge and hit dozens of other hotels such as the Doubletree Inn, the Holiday Inn Express, Courtyard by Marriott, The St. Regis, The Jefferson, and Destination Hotel’s The Madison.

Hotel Rouge is located at 1315 16th Street, NW in Washington, DC.

Groceries and other necessities

Whole Foods: Not the largest Whole Foods we’ve ever been to, but then it’s hard to compete with the flagship store in Austin, Texas. Still, this gave us the freshest selection of produce in the neighborhood, along with easy access to yogurt, hummus, and other items we needed to eat breakfast and lunch at the hotel.

Tip: If we had the option, we found it best to go during the day. Once 5pm rolled around, the place became a madhouse and lines to the cash registers snaked around to the back of the store. The lines did move quickly, however, thanks to a long bank of cash registers and an audio/visual system they have in place to tell the next person in line which register is open.

Located at 1440 P Street NW = .3 miles, one way (600 steps)

Safeway: If I had my choice, I would not have stepped foot in this Safeway. It’s a bit on the grimy side, very limited in its selection, and it is somewhat of a Twilight Zone experience to check out there, thanks to finicky technology and absent-minded customers. Still, we went there to quench my husband’s Diet Mountain Dew addiction and once because Whole Foods had already closed.

Located at 1701 Corcoran St NW = .4 miles, one way (800 steps)

CVS 1 & 2: There are two CVS pharmacies located within half a mile from Hotel Rouge. They are equally stocked with the kinds of odds and ends needed during a trip. It came in handy when I ran out of hand lotion and when Safeway was out of stock of Diet Mountain Dew. Like Safeway, though, we encountered some checkout headaches at each location. The lines were occasionally long and the self-checkouts didn’t always work.

CVS 1 is located down the street from Whole Foods at 1418 P St NW = .3 miles, one way (600 steps)

CVS 2 is located around the corner from Safeway at 1637 P St NW = .2 miles, one way (400 steps)

Coffee:

Commissary: We visited Commissary during the one afternoon it rained. We had gone to Starbucks first, but all the tables and chairs were taken with people who had set up remote offices at all the tables there. Commissary was a nice break from the usual, so I’m actually glad Starbucks was full. This place is more of a restaurant, serving lunch/brunch and dinner, but they have coffee options as part of their menu, so we just got a nibbly to munch on and had our coffee with that. The coffee was so-so, but it was a neat place to sit and hang out with Hubby for a half an hour.

Located at 1443 P St NW = .2 miles, one way (400 steps)

Caribou: There are three Caribou Coffees within half a mile from Hotel Rouge. The one we went to was on 18th and M, tucked into the construction happening on the building in which it is housed. Thankfully, no hard hats are needed to enjoy a cup of ‘Bou, but other than that, there’s not much to say about this location that is different from Caribous around the country.

New to me: This coffee chain has started providing options for hot sandwiches for lunch, such as grilled cheese and gouda turkey pesto, in addition to their pastries and warmed breakfast options.

There are three locations very close to Hotel Rouge:

1800 M Street = . 5 miles, one way (1000 steps)

1101 17th Street NW = .4 miles, one way (800 steps)

1156 15th Street = .3 miles, one way (600 steps)

Cafe Luna: This little spot is located down a short set of stairs off the sidewalk along P street. We went there for their adorable patio and a couple of soft drinks. While there, we met a very nice woman who is a regular there, and her dog, Horatio. Inside it had more of a restaurant feel with a fully stocked bar. I’m putting it in the “coffee” category because our purpose was coffee-like, in that we weren’t looking for a meal, but they do serve brunch and dinner. If you meet Horatio, tell him and his mom I said hi.

Located at 1633 P St NW = .2 miles one way (400 steps)

Teaism: If coffee isn’t your cup of tea, a friend of mine recommended Teaism to try. Unfortunately, we never made it there, but she recommended it so highly, I had to share it. There are several locations in the DC area. The ones listed below are equidistant to the hotel.

2009 R Street Northwest = . 7 miles, one way (1400 steps)

800 Connecticut Avenue Northwest = . 7 miles, one way (1400 steps)

Restaurants:

Listed in order of preference.

Nage: Walking up to this restaurant, I wasn’t overly impressed. It’s tucked into the same nondescript building as a Courtyard by Marriott. That’ll teach me to judge a restaurant by its doorfront.

The staff was warm, friendly, and even funny at times! The food was mouthwateringly delicious. I had mushroom baklava as my starter which was drizzled with blueberry compote. Even as I write this, I am craving that strange-sounding concoction. It is a brilliant combination. Hubby had one of their many fish choices and loved it. For dessert, I had a rich, creamy Lemon Goat Cheesecake. That’s when I asked Hubby to roll me out of the restaurant. Fortunately, we had a walking tour scheduled after so I could work off all that food!

If Hubby and I lived in DC, this would become a regular restaurant for us. In fact, by the time we left, we felt like regulars. The staff was so nice and the food was just so good.

Reservations did not appear to be necessary, but we made them to be on the safe side. You can too at OpenTable.com.

Happy Food Note: For those of us who eat vegetarian diets, they have several menu items devoted to meatless eaters. Not only that, but every week they have Meatless Mondays

Located at 1600 Rhode Island Avenue, NW = . 2 miles, one way (400 steps)

Nora: Like Nage, this restaurant had a fantastic combination of friendly, helpful service and delicious food. Also like Nage, they had a fabulous vegetarian menu. In fact, I was able to do an entire Chef’s Vegetarian Tasting Menu! I never have that option when there are “Chef’s Tasting Menus” to sample. I had a refreshing cold cucumber soup, a hearty onion tart, a stick-to-your-ribs mushroom risotto, and pistachio shortcake with macerated berries and whipped cream. By the time I got to dessert, I felt like I might look like a giant macerated berry, but I still somehow found enough room to sneak in about half of the shortcake, most of the berries, and a scoop or two of the homemade whipped cream.

Reservations are recommended and can be made online at OpenTable.com.

Hubby is a bit of a beer connoisseur and he loves IPA’s, in particular. He had this one at Nora and he loved it!

Fun Food Note: According to one of our tour guides, Restaurant Nora is the first certified organic restaurant in the United States. Their website goes on to explain this a little further: “This means that 95% or more of everything that you eat at the restaurant has been produced by certified organic growers and farmers all who share in Nora’s commitment to sustainable agriculture.”

Located at 2132 Florida Avenue NW = .8 miles, one way (1600 steps)

Firefly: This cozy restaurant, located in Hotel Madera, another Kimpton Hotel, is quite good. It serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We had dinner there. My only complaint about it is that it can get loud as guests fill up the tables. We got there on the earlier side, around 5:30, before anyone else had arrived, so we had the whole place to ourselves. It gave us a chance to catch up from the day before the masses arrived. By the time we left, it was so loud I couldn’t hear Hubby, who was sitting across the small table from me. Still, it’s worth trying.

Reservations are recommended and can be made through OpenTable.com.

Located at 1310 New Hampshire Avenue, NW = .6 miles, one way (1200 steps)

Cashion’s Eat Place: We met friends here for dinner one night and had really great food but really horrible service. If Nage was all about friendly, welcoming, attentive service, Cashion’s was the exact opposite. Several times servers brought food to our table that was meant for other tables. Our own dishes took half an hour or more to arrive after we had ordered. The optimist in me wants to believe this was an off night for the place because the food really was worth the trip. Our friends have been to this restaurant several times and assured us the poor service was as much a surprise to them as it was to us, so maybe try it–and then let me know how it went.

The food itself is Mediterranean inspired. I inhaled the Cauliflower Soup and enjoyed the vegetarian dish put together by the chef, which was made up of veggies served that day. Hubby and one of our friends had salads to start and then chose Pacific Sablefish as their entree. We were all pleased with the dishes we chose–just disappointed at the service.

Located at 1819 Columbia Road NW = 1.3 miles, one way (2600 steps)

Other:

COCOVA: Like chocolate? You’ll love this chocolate boutique located in Adams Morgan. They have handmade chocolates, artisanal chocolates, chocolate classes, and, on occasion, they have FREE SAMPLE DAY! Check out their events calendar for what’s happening during your visit.

Located at 1904 18th St. NW = .8 miles, one way (1600 steps)

Staples: While in DC, we had to make a quick trip to Staples to buy a toner cartridge and ream of paper for the small printer we take everywhere we go. The store was very helpful, almost to the point of seeming paranoid to leave us too long on our own.

Located at 1901 L Street = .7 miles, one way (1400 steps)

UPS Store: Also necessary during many of our trips is the need to shred paper we’ve used in our business during the week. The UPS Store tends to have shredding services, be they “drop off and pay by the pound” or “self-serve” at a shredding machine. This one was self-serve and cost all of $2 to shred a stack of papers about an inch thick. It was nice to have access so close to the hotel.

Located at 1718 M Street NW = . 3 miles, one way (600 steps)

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As always, if you have some ideas to add to our list of Walking DC Basics, please add them in the comments below! This is meant as a resource for all of us. Your contributions are always welcome with gratitude.

Now that you have all the basics down, get ready for some real fun touring the city!

Walking St. Paul: Planning a footloose and car-free vacation to Minnesota’s seductive capital

We eloped at the Chapel of Love in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota!

More than 15 years ago, Hubby and I lived in a high-rise condo in downtown Minneapolis. It never occurred to me until recently that, back then, we walked everywhere because of the Skyway system which connects most of the downtown buildings. Those little “high rise habitrails” keep the cold out in winter and the humidity out in summer, and I knew them like the back of my hand. At the time, though, we didn’t have pedometers or a weight problem. We were fit and fabulous in our mid-20s, just settling into married life.

Having just celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary, we are, of course, 16 years older. And, if you’ve been keeping up with this blog, you know that we’ve made lots of changes in the last year which have taken us back in time somewhat, to bodies that are fit and free from the rituals of “middle aged medicines”. In fact, we both weigh less today than we did when we first met!

As a result of these positive changes, we’ve been drawn to traveling to places where we can get 10,000 steps a day (or 5 miles) simply by walking to places we need to go, such as restaurants, grocery stores, and cultural sites. Over the next several weeks, this blog will be devoted to sharing everything we learned on those trips, city by city.

The series is called “Walking America” and it takes us across the United States and into Canada. Each adventure will demonstrate the car-free travels we took with resources for planning a similar trip. Just imagine the cash you’ll save not having to rent a car!

Let’s get started.

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Walking St. Paul

In early July of last year, we hitched a flight from steamy Phoenix, Arizona to the cooler but more humid Twin Cities in Minnesota. It was the first of several trips we took that summer, but we were not headed to our old stomping grounds in Minneapolis. Our destination was St. Paul, the other sister of the Twin Cities.

St. Paul Power Plant at sunrise. (Photo by JT Miller Photography.)

St. Paul rarely registered on our list of places to go when we lived in Minneapolis. My impression back then was that it was the boring sister of the two twins. Minneapolis seemed vibrant, sexier. Take, for example, Nicollet Avenue, a long pedestrian-only road in the heart of Minneapolis which, during the summer, boasts a thriving farmers market. Year round, there are shopping and dining options open for shoppers and diners of all financial means. It is protected from hard summer sun by the mirrored skyscrapers. And, on all sides are options for entertainment of all shades and varieties.

Nicollet Mall: The corner where Mary Tyler Moore threw her hat up in the air in the opening credits of the vintage television show with the same name. (Photo by jpellgen.)

St. Paul, on the other hand, was always a jumbled mystery for me. It seemed fragmented and confusing. What I didn’t understand in my youth, however, is that, while Minneapolis is attractive with its youthful glitter and nouveau sophistication, St. Paul is all slow-simmering seduction. It unravels itself to you in quiet, sultry come-ons, keeping hidden under the lushness of her old-growth trees all of her delicious secrets.

St. Paul is the capital of Minnesota. It has inspired famous states men and women, radio essayists, cartoonists, musicians, artists, and novelists. To name a few you may have heard of, there’s Garrison Keillor, known for his tales from “Lake Wobegon”, who still owns a home and a charming bookstore in St. Paul. Charles Schulz, creator of the long-standing Peanuts cartoon, grew up there. F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of such Jazz Age books as The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise, was born and raised there. In fact, you can find a couple of the places he lived still standing and commemorated with a plaque. It seems like everywhere you look you come across another familiar voice inspired by St. Paul.

This city is perhaps best known by its seedy gangster history from the 20s and 30s, when tough guys like John Dillinger and Babyface Nelson hid out there. There are even tours in St. Paul based solely on the exploits of such criminals and, when visiting certain watering holes and coffee shops, if you tap the right shoulder, you’ll get an earful of myths and mysteries associated with this past.

In the two weeks we spent there Hubby and I were seduced by St. Paul’s cool limestone mansions, its smoothed cobblestone alleyways, the stories  and myths of its juicy past, and innumerable  buildings brimming with character. We were drawn by the delicious aromas wafting down Selby and Grand, and smitten by the intellectual murmurings carried on over meals and cocktails. It is a place with its own rhythm, one which is punctuated by a slow, sultry Jazz saxophone, and it is easy to get lost in the flow of it. Before long, you find yourself tapping your finger and swaying to that rhythm. Then, when the spell is cast, you find you simply can’t get this daring twin out of your head.

Where we stayed and why:

Front of The Berg House in St. Paul. (Photo provided by Svein and Olga Berg.)

The Berg House is a vacation rental located at 128 Saint Albans St. N in St. Paul. We stayed there because it is within about a half a mile to almost everything we wanted to do. It has three bedrooms and two bathrooms, with extra futons and pull-out sofas for  larger families and groups. It has a kitchen equipped with enough essential tools that I made Breakfast Cookies for Hubby when the need arose. All I had to do was buy the ingredients.

Kitchen equipped with lots of great tools for cooking and baking. (Photo by Svein and Olga Berg.)

Also important to our stay was access to high speed internet and a desk or table on which Hubby could do his work. The Berg House actually has high speed and wireless, along with two office areas with large desks to spread out computer equipment and papers.

Third bedroom upstairs with perfect desk for getting work done. (Photo provided by Svein and Olga Berg.)

Having a choice of desks meant we were able to work while we played in St. Paul. (Photo by Svein and Olga Berg.)

My favorite space was the upstairs bathroom. It was recently redone with a claw foot tub and separate shower. The vanity was charming. It appeared to have been a dresser at some point, but was repurposed for the sink and its fixtures.  The morning light filtered through white shutters onto the sage colored walls and white tiles and, when listening to Carmen Cuesta’s Mi Bossa Nova album on my iPhone, the outside world melted away.

Upstairs bathroom--very spa-like. (Photo provided by Svein and Olga Berg.)

During our two weeks there the sun shone brightly almost every day. Temperatures flirted with 90-degrees Fahrenheit. We kept cool with plenty of window air conditioning units located throughout the home, and in the late afternoons, we chatted under the trees on the patio.

Sunny days were lovely in the shaded backyard. (Photo provided by Svein and Olga Berg.)

Groceries:

Mississippi Market on Selby. (Photo provided by Mississippi Market website.)

Just a couple of blocks from The Berg House at 622 Selby Avenue was the Mississippi Market, a natural foods co-op that provided us with fruit, veggies, milk, and all the other necessities we needed to eat breakfast and lunch at home. The Bergs gave us their member number so we were able to get membership rates at that store.

Mississippi Market = 200 steps one way (.1 miles)

Drug store:

Because this was early on in our walking experiment, Hubby was still taking cholesterol medication. We ended up extending our stay but one of his prescriptions ran out while we were there. I was able to fill it about half a mile away at the Walgreen’s at 734 Grand Avenue.

Walgreen’s = 800 steps one way (.4 miles)

Coffee:

On my return walk from Walgreen’s, I stopped in to Caribou Coffee for two Americanos and took them back to The Berg House for both of us to enjoy.

Caribou Coffee is a Minnesota-born chain, which I believe has expanded its territory beyond the confines of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. This one is located at 757 Grand Avenue.

Caribou Coffee = 800 steps one way (.4 miles).

Other coffee places nearby:

Nina’s Coffee Cafe: This is my favorite coffee shop to visit while in St. Paul. It is located in an historic building and named for Nina Clifford, a woman famous for the brothel she ran in the late 1800s. It is also known for being a great place to write and, while sitting back and watching the ebb and flow of its visitors, I can vouch for it being an inspirational place. It is located at 165 Western Avenue N.

Nina’s Coffee Cafe = 1200 steps one way (.6 miles)

Nina's Coffee Cafe. (Photo by Jordon Whitney.)

Caffe Latte: This cafe has a coffee shop further into the building, on the back side of the cafeteria style restaurant. I have eaten in the cafeteria twice for lunch and had coffee there after dinner elsewhere on Grand. It is a sunny place to enjoy coffee, dessert, and/or breakfast, lunch, or dinner. One thing I appreciate is the variety of options on their menus. There are sandwiches, soups, salads, and pizzas available to people with all eating habits: vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, and meat eaters! It is located at 850 Grand Ave.

Caffe Latte: 1,000 steps one way (.5 miles)

There is often a long line at the cafeteria because the food is so good! (Photo from the Caffee Latte site.)

Dunn Bros.: Dunn Bros coffee is another favorite place to stop for some java, but it is, unfortunately almost two miles away from The Berg House. We didn’t take any integrated walks there, but it is worthwhile stopping in for a growler of iced coffee should your adventures take you past one. The closest one to the Berg House is located at 242 W 7th St.

Growler of iced coffee from Dunn Bros.

Other:

Had we wanted to cook more while we were there, my friend Rhonda showed me where the Coastal Seafoods market was with all things fresh fish. It is located at the corner of Grand Avenue and Snelling at 74 S. Snelling.

Coastal Seafoods = 4,000 steps one way (1.9 miles)

Restaurants:

Visiting St. Paul is always a culinary delight. We are lucky enough to have friends in the area who know St. Paul’s restaurants very well. My friend Rhonda is an expert in great food. During an earlier visit, she introduced me to Salut and La Grolla, which I, in turn, introduced to Hubby. Fortunately, both of these restaurants are within walking distance to The Berg House. See below for descriptions and distances for these and other restaurants we enjoyed during our stay.

W.A. Frost's patio at night. (Photo by Sharyn Morrow.)

W.A. Frost: Located at 374 Selby Avenue, across the street from Nina’s Coffee Cafe, is a restaurant which describes itself best on its website: “casual upscale American cuisine”. The reason to go there is not only the amazing soups, but the patio. (The other food is good too, but the soup was a stand-out.) Oh! The patio! It is wonderfully shaded all around and a great place to unwind after a long day. The service was so-so. One time we went there, the service was impeccable. The next time it was carelessly slow. Still, we go back because the food is good and the patio is divine.

W.A. Frost = 1,200 steps one way (.6 miles)

Pazzaluna: This yummy Italian restaurant, located at  360 St. Peter Street, is just on the outskirts for the distance Hubby and I will walk for a restaurant. My friend Rhonda took me there during a separate visit a year or two ago. I discovered that, not only could I find many delicious vegetarian choices, I might run into a celebrity! My friend’s husband stood side-by-side in the restroom with Prince once.

Pazzaluna = 3,800 steps one way ( 1.9 miles)

Salut Bar Americain: Located at 917 Grand Avenue, this little brasserie will make you feel like an American in Paris. It offers hearty French-style food and lots of it. For those of us watching our waistlines, it can be a little tricky, but all of their fish items have the option of being cooked “simply grilled”, which is what Hubby opted for. At the time, there was a delicious watermelon-mint salad on the menu that I thoroughly enjoyed. Maintaining weight loss tip: order items you can split with one another so you don’t eat the whole thing by yourself.

Salut = 1,200 steps one way (.6 miles)

La Grolla: This restaurant is located at 452 Selby Avenue. It is, as you can guess from the name of it, Italian cuisine. I usually had one of their vegetarian pasta options (staying away from cream-sauced choices) and a side salad. They offer some great fish options as well.

La Grolla = 1,000 steps one way (.5 miles away)

Punch PizzaThis is good, quick thin-crust pizza on 769 Grand Avenue.

Punch Pizza = 800 steps one way (.4 miles away)

Chipotle: This build-a-burrito-style Mexican chain is a staple for Hubby and me. It’s fresh and, because you choose what you want every step of the way, it is easy to make the meal Weight Watcher’s friendly. The one closest to the Berg House is at 867 Grand Avenue.

Chipotle = 1,000 steps one way (.5 miles)

Broadway Pizza: There is really only one restaurant in the area for which I would break down and use a car. It is Broadway Pizza. I have loved their pizza since we lived there so long ago. The location at 2025 West River Road in Minneapolis is the original (and my favorite). It has the whole kitschy railroad theme still intact after all these years. Left to my own devices, I would eat a whole cheese pizza on my own. Thankfully, I’ve always gone with others so I could keep my discipline in check.

Broadway Pizza = In case you do eat the whole pizza and need lots of steps, it is worth 16,400 steps one way from The Berg House (8.2 miles).

Things to Do:

Tours

Human on a Stick Magical History Segway Tour: If you have never taken a Segway tour, I highly recommend it. I’ve taken two tours with this company–the St. Paul tour and the Minneapolis tour. The next time I’m in town, I’m going to do the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden tour too. For the St. Paul tour, the meeting location was at the parking lot behind St. Paul’s United Church of Christ. We got our helmets and our Segways and were off! Had this been our first tour, we would have also gotten the safety instructions and about half an hour to try it out before heading onto the streets and sidewalks. For $80 per person, plus tip, we got the gear we needed and more than six miles worth of up-close-and-personal history.

Segway Tour meeting location = 1,400 steps one way (.7 miles)

Look closely to see me on my Segway under the War Memorial for those who served in Korea.

Twin Cities Tours: Doug Rosenquist customized a tour of St. Paul for me a year and a half ago when I was doing research for a book I’m writing. I can’t say enough good about his personalized, private tours. If you’re uncertain about what to see in St. Paul, check out the themes he proposes on his website, or talk to him about what is important to you. He will help you customize something that will leave you with lots of great memories of your time in St. Paul.

Doug’s tours are set mostly in his comfortable tour van. To get your steps in, see if he would be amenable to a walking tour. Or, he will pick you up wherever you ask, so have him meet you at a location that you walk to. One suggestion? Ask him to meet you at the Minnesota History Center located at 345 Kellogg Boulevard West. Then, when your tour is over, you can eat lunch at the cafe there and go explore the exhibits at the center.

Minnesota History Center = 2,800 steps (1.4 miles)

"Vision of Peace" by Carl Milles was seen on my tour with Twin Cities Tours in the St. Paul City Hall and Ramsey County Courthouse. It is three stories tall!

If you do any of the tours mentioned above, you will either come across and/or go into all of the below, so I will not spend a great deal of time detailing what they are and why you should go there. In fact, you could use the list below to take your own walking tour since it is the “basic” list of what to see in St. Paul. But if you’re like me, you want to know more about a place before visiting there, so check out the links to each one for more information. Step counts from The Berg House to all of these locations are provided.

Brain Candy

Ax-Man Surplus: Once you’ve skimmed the intellectual side of St. Paul with great historical and architectural tours, give your brain a party by taking it to Ax-Man Surplus. This is something you might want to do on a day when you have time to walk there and spend the rest of the afternoon looking at all the cool stuff they have. It is located at 1639 University Avenue West.

Ax-Man Surplus: 5,400 steps one way (2.7 miles)

Shops on Grand AveFor retail therapy, a good place to eat, or just in the mood for strolling and people watching, Grand Avenue is about half a mile (1,000 steps) from the Berg House. If you walk it, starting at Dale Street South and walking all the way to Lexington Parkway, you will walk a mile, or 2,000 steps one way.

This list, of course, is in no way exhaustive for what there is to do in St. Paul. Each season brings its own set of ideas too. For July 4th, go to the 7th Street Bridge and watch the fireworks going off at Harriet Island. In the winter, you cannot miss the St. Paul Winter Carnival, which celebrates the cold out in the cold.

No matter when you go, St. Paul is sure to lead you in a dance of seduction you will never forget–especially if you remember that this dance requires walking shoes.

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Coming up: Walking Toronto

Hotel Valley Ho stays fresh while paying homage to the hippest parts of its history

In the scurry that is Sunday morning at the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, Arizona, Hubby and I, along with a group of eight or so other people, met with Ace Bailey of Ultimate Art & Cultural Tours to learn all there is to know about this Mid-Century Modern hotel with a Southwest twist.

The Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, Arizona. The concrete panels mentioned below can be seen lining the roofline of the porte-cochere along the entrance.

Built in 1956, the hotel was the first year-round resort in Scottsdale. It was lined all around with 350-pound concrete panels that have an “arrowhead” design set in them. The design marked the hotel as “Southwest” while keeping to the slick minimalism of Modern design. The hotel drew Hollywood’s elite to the Arizona desert with the lure of luxury and anonymity. Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood celebrated their wedding reception there. Jimmy Durante was a favorite guest who could often be found tickling the ivories at the purple piano in the lounge.

A column in the lobby has the arrowhead design in it. I don't know about you, but I see "V's" in it, for "Valley Ho," maybe?

Through the years, the hotel went through different phases of facelifts. Ramada acquired the hotel in the 1970s and tinkered with cosmetic changes. By the early 2000s, though, the hotel had seen better years and was up for demolition. In 2004, though, Westroc Hotels & Resorts took on the task of bringing the hotel back to life with a full restoration and update, inspired by the building’s cool history. It now embraces its hip past while setting trends for today. It boasts that it is “posh but never stuffy. Relaxed but far from dull.”

Below are pictures from our tour. I think you’ll agree that the hotel definitely clicks along to a familiar, fun-loving groove, inspired by its mid-century roots.

Old pictures of the original design can be found beside the concierge stand. Here is one of the original restaurant.

The lobby has a great expansiveness to it with the stone-clad wall extending outside, beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows. The fireplace is fantastic.

When the hotel underwent its most recent facelift, the developers went out of their way to reuse and recycle as much as they could. In fact, they managed to save 20,000 tons of waste from ever reaching the landfill by restoring the hotel instead of tearing it down. The fireplace in the lobby is one example as to how they did that. Instead of throwing out glass doors that had broken, they used them as a decorative feature in the fireplace. Today, the hotel has been classified as a “Green Hotel“, thanks to its environmentally friendly policies.

The environmentally friendly fireplace.

Seen here, the massive concrete "arrowhead" panels lining the hotel, and a Saucer Pendant Light first designed in 1952 by George Nelson, which is translucent plastic spray-coated onto a steel skeleton.

This is the bar/lounge area as it is today. I think they've done a great job of mixing the best of yesterday with what's cool today. I particularly love those "bubble" mirrors and those white lamps.

This curved wall leads from the lobby of the hotel to the lounge area. It is clad in shiny glass tiles. Layered on top of those is a hard-to-miss, funky design made of felt or some other soft fabric in blues and chartreuse.

A toast to cool: 1950s Fenders hang in the lobby area, behind the concierge desk.

Back in the day, connecting rooms didn’t exist, so the architect came up with the idea of using rotating screens on the patios and balconies so friends and families could visit one another in their PJs. The screens are still in use today, but perhaps as more of a novelty since there seems to be less concern about being seen in one’s pajamas these days.

Look closely to see the bars which hang from the ceiling and allow the screens to rotate.

From the roof of the hotel, circles of tables perfectly aligned for, what looks like a celebratory dinner.

A view of the pool from the rooftop. Notice the shape--a circle within another circle. It is meant to be the view one might see when looking down upon a martini glass with an olive sticking out of the side. The pool shape is not original to the hotel. It had to be completely redone when Westroc took it over because it was in disrepair.

The view of a pleasant balcony for one of the rooms which, I believe, is an executive suite.

Rates for a signature king started at $229 a night when I did a search on their website for a weekend stay. The hotel also has several packages available.

The hotel also offers several rooms to those traveling with pets, providing some special amenities for your furry loved one.

If the price of a night’s stay is too rich for your blood, perhaps visiting Cafe Zuzu for dinner would be more to your liking. While the service can sometimes be a little off, I can personally vouch for Chef Wiley’s American cuisine. They offer new twists on old favorites.

There is a spa on site, as well as a fitness centerMyTown365, another blogger based in the area, recently posted a picture and information of one of the yoga classes provided on the rooftop of the hotel. From the looks of it, it is a very popular class among guests and the community at large.

Finally, if you do nothing else at the hotel, I highly recommend taking the tour with Ace Bailey. The price is $19.56 (in honor of the year the hotel first opened) and the 90-minute tour not only provides access to places within the hotel not usually available to the general public, you also receive discounts to the VH Spa and Cafe Zuzu. For more information about how to sign up for the tour, click here.

Hotel Valley Ho is located within walking distance to Old Town Scottsdale at 6850 E. Main Street, Scottsdale, AZ 85251. To make reservations or for more information, go to their website or call 480-248-2000.

Zipping around La Jolla on a Segway

On a partly cloudy afternoon last October, I took the “Another Side of San Diego” Segway Tour in La Jolla, California. My guide was a very knowledgeable, very friendly guy named Steven. We zipped all over town, taking in sea life, beach scenes, art, and architecture–all while smelling the fresh sea air and feeling somehow more connected to the town, its people, and the sealife because of the openness and accessibility of the Segway.

A sea anemone seen in one of the pools left behind at low tide. I think I even tickled this one with my finger.

One of my favorite parts of the tour was actually when we got off our personal transporters to go check out some of the life along the intertidal zone. It was accessible because the tide was out. Happily for me, Steven was a student of zoology and was able to tell me about the starfish, anemones, crabs, and other creatures living in the little pools of water left after the tide went out. It made me want to take their Tidal Pool Tour.

More sea anemones (look closely).

I also loved going into the two art galleries we visited: Legends Art Gallery, where they sell beautiful Mackenzie Thorpe prints and Dr. Seuss reproductions, and Lik Gallery, which showcases the photography of Peter Lik, known for his TV show, “From the Edge” on The Weather Channel. It was so neat to explore these galleries. On our tour, I learned that Theodore Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) lived in La Jolla and was inspired by some of the trees, buildings, and landscapes of the area. Peter Lik’s photography has also been inspired by the shores of La Jolla.

Seals lazing about near the Children's Pool in La Jolla.

There wasn’t anything I didn’t like about my tour. It provided a perfect balance of general sightseeing while focusing in on certain special details about the area. I would do it again in a heartbeat and, next time I’m in San Diego, I would love to take another Segway tour with “Another Side of San Diego”.

The price for this tour was $149. It was two hours in length and started and ended at Scripps Park in La Jolla. I highly recommend it.

Tips

  • Layer: I went in October. The clouds were overhead and made things a little chilly at first. As we went along, though, the sun popped out and warmed everything up. Steven brought along water bottles for the trip and there was a handy pouch on the front of the Segway to store my jacket when I took it off.
  • Wear comfortable shoes: If you heed nothing else I say, heed this advice. The Segway is all about standing and I learned from a previous experience that feet grow very weary standing on a Segway for two hours. I wore tennis shoes on this tour, and was very content the whole time.
  • Don’t forget your camera! I only took my iPhone camera but wished I could have zoomed in on some of the seals sunning themselves out on the rocks.

Local artists inspire alongside Mirazozo at the Mesa Festival of Creativity

The bright, blue skies are blanketed today with leftover rainclouds from the weekend. They are the kind of clouds that look like pillow stuffing. They have flat bottoms and, in their journey across the sky, they take on the shapes of animals and objects. The wind beneath them is cold, a reminder of yesterday’s blustery rain and wind. You will never hear me complain of the rain, even if it did feel at times like I was Sisyphus trying to push a boulder through the streets of Phoenix last night.

Sisyphus carrying his burden.

Today, however, the clouds seem content to be their billowing selves, keeping their nurturing rain tucked into their folds. They lope sloth-like through the skies, inspiring all kinds of imaginings to those whose eyes roam skyward and on into daydreams. It is their presence, and that of the accompanying cold wind, that has me hunched over my coffee mug today, doing some daydreaming of my own about adventures had on the weekend before the storms rolled in.

It's coffee time! Second cup, please!

If you have read previous posts of this blog, then you know Hubby and I were alerted to a grand event happening in Mesa over last week–the Festival of Creativity at the fantastic Mesa Arts Center. This festival itself was free and included artistic expressions in several forms, including music and interactive art pieces. Mirazozo was one of the main attractions of the festival, but to get in visitors paid a nominal fee of $5 per person. It was an impressive architectural sculpture made out of thin sheets of colored plastic, and brought to life with air.

Hubby and I went to the festival on Friday night. On the music stage was Tobie Milford, a violinist whose music rolled up and over the exhibits in gentle waves. The sounds were like a benediction. It’s not enough, though, for me to describe it for you. Tobie Milford must be heard to understand his talent. Below is a video to give you a little taste of what it was like to walk around this festival with his looping violin and milky voice mixing with the creative energy in the air:

All along the lane that was set up for the festival there were interactive exhibits. There was a large Lego cactus being built by anyone who wanted to participate. Visitors built smaller pieces and the artists banged them into place on the cactus. Looking closely, one could see the artistic spirit of the community at large. We found a Space Invader among the bright Lego colors. Do you see it in the photo below?

Attendees at the festival were invited to help build a 10-foot tall cactus made out of Legos. Anybody see the Space Invader in the cactus? (Photo by M Dryja.)

As we walked on, we saw a juggler tossing large, illuminated yoyos and bowling pins into the air and catching them with ease. There were long sticks that looked like the big brothers of desert plants rooted into containers. When pushed, the plants made music. One structure looked like a giant, neon agave plant, but when we touched it, we discovered it was made out of pool noodles. Art was projected up onto the blank walls of surrounding buildings and white shade sails overhead. The light from the projections spun before and over us as another artist, perched on a scaffolding, took pictures of people interacting with the art below.

Agave plant made out of pool noodles. The sign on the container invites visitors to touch it. (Photo by M Dryja.)

Illuminated images spun over a blank wall. It was hard to capture how grand and vivid it was, but I did manage to grab a phrase from it: "The Desert is my Playground." That seemed to be a theme for the festival.

A favorite piece for both of us was the video wall where passersby became the art. As we walked by, a camera caught our silhouettes and projected them on the wall of the Contemporary Art building. When we moved, the projections moved, and then divided and flipped, and suddenly, what was two images of our silhouettes became four and six and upside down. It brought out the kid in everyone who passed by. Old men with canes were trying to make the projections more outlandish than before. Kids were hopping up and down to make the images jump.

Hubby raised his arms and created images that split off, flipped over, and danced across the wall.

A family from very young to what looked like grandparents got involved in creating art on the wall.

We also took the opportunity to walk through the Contemporary Art Museum, another free experience. A lot of the artists in that museum are from the area. It was a good reminder to see how talented people in the Phoenix area are. I have known that for a while, given the number of art walks and festivals held each month in various cities in the metro area, but this was a permanent reminder to the the community at large. Sadly, I was not able to take pictures inside the museum, but the building and surrounding gardens were works of art on their own, so Hubby and I took lots of photos of the outside.

Lighted glass structures are on permanent display in the garden outside the Contemporary Art Museum. (Photo by M Dryja.)

The entire Mesa Arts Center plaza is rather impressive with contemporary architecture, creative landscaping, and the way it is lit.

I’m sorry to admit that we were not originally there for those local artists. We were there for Mirazozo. The reason I did not start this article with Mirazozo, however, is because, although it is larger and more well-known than the others we saw, I was just as impressed by some of the exhibits produced by local talent, and they deserve to be showcased. For instance, just outside Mirazozo’s luminarium was a group of pictures created by local chalk artists. It was impressive to see the depth of color and detail they could get over the stubbly, bumpy blacktop of the parking lot.

One of our favorite images by the chalk artists, a desert tortoise. Hubby claimed that's what he looks like in the morning before his first cup of coffee.

One of the groupings of chalk art.

The chalk art from another vantage point.

As for the main exhibit, Mirazozo, it’s hard to describe what it is, exactly. It sort of feels like part bounce-house, part cathedral. The walls are made of thin sheets of plastic, so thin that they are flexible and feel like fabric. Air is pumped into the structure and light from outside filters through stripes and designs to create a stained-glass effect.

Hubby explores Mirazozo.

Hubby is dazzled. And maybe a little dazed.

The structure is laid out very much in the way a cathedral or basilica might be, with little transepts off to the side and a central nave in the middle. In fact, the structure of Mirazozo actually reminded me of that of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The layout of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Layout of Mirazozo.

Reading more about Mirazozo, I learned that it was “inspired by the beauty of natural geometry and by Islamic architecture.”

We were there because friends had told us that it was a sight to behold. This big, silver bubbly structure that sat in the parking lot promised to dazzle us with its colors. It was astounding to consider the immense size of the thing, how it was made, and how it was held together, as all that air pushed in to give it life.

Mirazozo from the outside looks much like a Middle Eastern circus tent. Apparently, the small domes and repetitious forms found in the bazaars of Iran inspired the design of Mirazozo. (Photo by M Dryja.)

Inside, it was sacred and psychedelic. People lounged on parts of the floor that poofed up where the walls met the ground. I couldn’t help but think of stoned hippies seeing them lounge barefoot like that so peacefully. It’s not something you see at most art exhibits, but it also didn’t feel out of place either. We were all barefoot so as not to damage the plastic flooring. (In fact, the inside did smell a bit like feet.) Still, whatever it was–the lighting, the music by David Bickley bouncing off the soft walls, the muffled whispers–it was an easy place to be, relaxing and a little mind-altering.

Inside were tunnels which led to other rooms and nooks.

Spidery lines curved and angled across the ceiling.

A little girl looks around as Hubby posed in front of a green "tree".

More lines trumpet out from the ceiling.

Below is a slideshow with far more pictures from Mirazozo and the Festival of Creativity. Grab yourself a cup of coffee, relax, and enjoy.

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